How do we avoid a future like the one in Frank Herbert’s Dune?

Istock 1294922884 (1)
Kristina Mastroianni

Kristina Mastroianni

Agriculture Sector Lead

By strengthening local actors and investing in existing systems, a markets systems development approach can provide stability in changing environments and contribute significantly to peace building

December 20, 2021

While cinema audiences around the world flock to see the new Dune movie that shows the conflicts of a futuristic society in a desert landscape, it is worth remembering the real conflicts that devastate the lives of hundreds of millions of people, particularly in drought-prone areas such as the Sahel or East Africa. And yet, life still goes on in these regions, with food and other essential goods traded in local markets despite the difficult conditions that many people face on a day-to-day basis. Locally-produced agricultural products are essential to food security and for many people it is their principal means of income. Many agricultural products are perishable, supply chains are often disrupted and actors working in these unstable and unregulated markets face large risks.

Climate change and population growth increase the pressure on natural resources, especially in drought prone regions such as the Sahel or Horn of Africa, and reinforce traditional lines of conflict between pastoralists and farmers. COVID-19 has further interrupted marketing channels and generated greater insecurity in many regions. Women and youth are affected most by both food insecurity and conflict situations, with many disillusioned youth becoming easy targets for recruitment into armed groups. Strengthening market systems can support economic growth in agricultural markets to create new work opportunities for disadvantaged women and youth. When approached in this way, development cooperation can support  peace building and stability processes.  

Establishing peace and stability by investing in agricultural market systems

Applying a market systems development (MSD) approach, which strengthens the local actors and invests within the existing system, can provide stability in changing environments and contribute significantly to peace building if done effectively. This requires development actors to start working more systemically in fragile regions in collaboration with humanitarian aid and peacebuilding organisations through a Triple Nexus Approach.

Triple Nexus Approach

To succeed with a MSD programme in a fragile environment, it is important to establish close partnerships with key actors and institutions at both national and decentralised levels to secure local buy-in and sustainability. Programmes should work through existing systems, including informal authorities, to establish local ownership and exert a positive influence to strengthen good governance. Systematic support for multi-stakeholder dialogue forums should be built into the programme design, including support to negotiation among partners and stakeholders on key issues such as access rights to resources using local structures/processes for non-violent conflict resolution, for example through Citizens' Watch Committees. The implementer of a MSD programme need well-established local networks and a thorough understanding of the political economy, both at national and local level. The local anchoring and associated in-depth knowledge of local conflict dynamics are intended to maximise the conflict transformation potential of the MSD approach while minimising the risks of contributing to fuelling the existing conflicts.

A MSD programme supports intervention partners, e.g. local producer organisations, private agrobusinesses or civil society organisations, with funds to implement strategic activities to strengthen the market system for the smallholder farmers and pastoralists. To address the weak market structures prevalent in fragile contexts, investments should focus on local market infrastructure and strengthening logistical systems through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs).

 Agricultural market systems in conflict-affected regions

Basic agro-processing can increase the shelf life of key products. Women and youth can be supported to find new opportunities to improve their livelihoods through small scale processing and value addition. For example innovation grants can be directed at small-scale agrobusiness ventures and their links to local market systems. Investing in women’s economic empowerment improves food security and can have a stabilising effect on local communities.

Lessons from our NIRAS experience in delivering agriculture market systems programmes in fragile contexts such as South Sudan, Burkina Faso and Mali include:

  • Programmes must respond to national priorities and fit into existing regional and local development processes and plans;
  • Steering Committees should include national actors, local community groups, producers' associations, and land commissions.
  • Investments must allow for a transition to scale.

To reach the most vulnerable groups when mobility is restricted by conflict, capacity building needs to be done at a very local level, including at the level of individual farms. Combining hands-on advice to selected farmers with online extension systems, for example traditional radio or simple SMS apps, can provide effective outreach to marginalised groups. Other examples include climate forecasting apps that provide farmers with advance information on what to plant or how many heads of cattle the available rangeland will be able to sustain over a season.

Investments to resolve bottlenecks in market systems is a central component in any MSD programme, however many implementers struggle with ensuring that donor funds reach the target people in the conflict-afflicted areas and are used for the intended purposes. MSD requires close monitoring, therefore it is essential to engage a network of well-trained local monitoring exerts and enumerators. Securing MSD investments in local entities requires detailed due diligence of each partner and close audits of each investment. This can be done by engaging locally based auditors who have good access to the MSD programme intervention partners.

Recommendations to enable application of an
MSD approach in a conflict-affected region:

Kristina Mastroianni

Kristina Mastroianni

Agriculture Sector Lead

Stockholm, Sweden

+46 8 545 533 32